Secret Samadhi by Live

Buy Secret Samadhi

Secret Samadhi by LiveThe third overall album by the rock quartet Live, the 1997 release Secret Samadhi debuted on the top of the American charts immediately after its release. The album is named after a state of Hindu meditation and features a mix of mainstream rock and alternative Avant Garde. Although the album did not receive the most positive critical reviews, it is an original work which makes a unique statement and draws influence from diverse musical influences from both contemporary and historical rock artists.

Live reached mainstream success in 1994 with the release of their second album, Throwing Copper, along with the band’s inclusion in the Woodstock ’94 festival and other prominent tours. Throwing Copper had a long rise to the top of the album charts in 1995 and sold over eight million copies in the US alone.

The group returned to the studio in 1996 with producer Jay Healy, who had worked with the band years earlier on an EP entitled Divided Mind, Divided Planet. The goal of this album’s production was to achieve a less polished, more hard-edged sound. The result is a slightly darker and more introspective aesthetic than that which they had produced previously.


Secret Samadhi by Live
Released: February 18, 1997 (Radioactive)
Produced by: Jay Healy & Live
Recorded: Hit Factory, New York City, South Beach Studios, Miami & The Record Plant, Los Angeles, 1996
Track Listing Group Musicians
Rattlesnake
Lakini’s Juice
Graze
Century
Ghost
Unsheathed
Insomnia and the Hole in the Universe
Turn My Head
Heropsychodreamer
Freaks
Merica
Gas Hed Goes West
Ed Kowalczyk – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Chad Taylor – Guitars, Vocals
Patrick Dahlheimer – Bass
Chad Gracey – Drums

 
Secret Samadhi by Live

 

The opening track “Rattlesnake” features many differing textures culminating in an almost a dark Western overall feel. The initial verses are calm and refrained and, although this track never reaches full frenzy, there is a wild, unhinged guitar lead by Chad Taylor. On the unique masterpiece “Lakini’s Juice”, the atmospherics of the opener give way to a drilling main guitar riff, oddly paired with orchestral string interludes, provided by arranger Doug Katsaros. Although this song was not released as a single, it received enough airplay to top the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart.

The next several tracks, while not horrible, collectively form the album’s low point. The slow and methodical “Graze” is apparently a song about aliens who spookily state their intentions, while “Century” is an upbeat acoustic track with some unfortunately amateurish and adolescent lyrics by front man Ed Kowalczyk. “Ghost” starts with a methodical drum beat by Chad Gracey to complement a very refined guitar and bass and whispered vocals throughout, while the uneven “Unsheathed” features a strong presence by bassist Patrick Dahlheimer.

Live

The second half of the album features some of its strongest tracks. The ballad “Turn My Head” is the closest to a traditional pop song, complete with strings by Katsaros which are elegant and signature to the song. A strong REM influence is most striking here, especially with Kowalczyk’s crooning lead vocals. In striking contrast, “Heropsychodreamer” has a definitive punk/new wave feel. “Freaks” features great rhythms by Gracey and an excellent melody by Kowalczyk complete with ad-lib like extensions at the end of each verse. Meanwhile, Taylor’s atmospheric guitar notes are layered intensely to highlight the song. “Merica” features another cool, odd beat and riff with an overall feel of authentic classic rock, leading to the soulful rock closer “Gas Hed Goes West”, which is slightly repetitive but ends the album strongly.

Secret Samadhi album was certified double platinum and was a hit worldwide. Live continued to record and release albums into the 21st century, but would not again reach this top level of success.

~

1997 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1997 albums.

 

Ixnay On the Hombre by The Offspring

Buy Ixnay on the Hombre

Ixnay On the Hombre by The OffspringIn their prime, The Offspring‘s music found the sweet spot somewhere between hard rock and hardcore. Their 1997 fourth overall release and major label debut, Ixnay on the Hombre, features a diverse collection of songs which range from thrashing punk to moody and philosophical rock to the occasional bit of light comical fare. The resulting album found both critical acclaim and worldwide commercial success, as it sold over three million copies across the globe.

After the massive commercial success of their previous album, Smash in 1994, the band was the biggest act on the small Epitaph label. They eventually decided to leave the label and signed a recording contract with Columbia Records, but not before they bought out the rights to their 1989 debut album and re-released it.

The Offspring entered the studio in mid 1996 with producer Dave Jerden and recorded close to twenty songs from the sessions. This was eventually pared back to a dozen album tracks along with a couple of spoken word novelty tracks.


Ixnay On the Hombre by The Offspring
Released: February 4, 1997 (Columbia)
Produced by: Dave Jerden
Recorded: Eldorado Recording Studios, Hollywood, California
Track Listing Group Musicians
Disclaimer
The Meaning of Life
Mota
Me and My Old Lady
Cool to Hate
Leave It Behind
Gone Away
I Choose
Intermission
All I Want
Way Down the Line
Don’t Pick It Up
Amazed
Change the World
Dexter Holland – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Kevin Wasserman – Guitars, Vocals
Greg Kriesel – Bass, Vocals
Ron Welty – Drums, Vocals

 

Ixnay On the Hombre by The Offspring

 

The album begins with one of the spoken word tracks, “Disclaimer”, a sarcastic dissertation on warning labels recited by Jello Biafra. The music starts with “The Meaning of Life”, a rapid punk/pop track which sets the pace for much of the material on the album. After a unique percussive intro by Ron Welty, “Mota” breaks out with a hard-edged ska feel throughout with definite punk overtones and good, edgy rudiments.

Most of the material on the album was written by lead vocalist Dexter Holland, who belts his signature story-telling lyrical rants and unique wails later on the track “Me and My Old Lady”, which also features a really cool groove and is the best song of the early part of album. Unfortunately, this is followed by two of the more forgettable tracks, “Cool to Hate”, which tries to be high-school anthemic, and “Leave It Behind” a standard and forgettable song.

The Offspring

The heart of Ixnay On the Hombre starts with “Gone Away”, an interesting, grunge-inspired track with differing vibes and textures. Greg Kriesel‘s bass fueled verses tradeoff with the piercing guitar riff interludes of Kevin Wasserman on this top Mainstream Rock Track. “I Choose” was another hit from the album built on the fantastic funky riffing and rhythms with Kriesal and Welty’s bass and drums complementing the charged electric riffs by Wasserman, who later provides a traditional hard rock guitar lead.

“Intermission” provides a true point of levity to usher in the latter part of the album, which includes the fastest punk track “All I Want”, the eclectic track “Way Down the Line”, and “Don’t Pick It Up”, an entertaining mixture of ska and surf rock. “Amazed” is another quality track, almost as good as the earlier hits, while the closer “Change the World” comes just a little short of greatness due to the tense punk beat which detracts from the otherwise fine melody and bass line.

Ixnay on the Hombre reached the Top Ten of the US album charts and The Offspring toured relentlessly throughout the world to promote the record.

~

1997 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1997 albums.

 

No Code by Pearl Jam

Buy No Code

No Code by Pearl JamIn 1996, Pearl Jam created a stoner rock classic with their fourth studio album, No Code. Here, the alternative grunge pioneers branched out with diverse music tracks which incorporated elements of blues, country, psychedelia and world music. The resulting record is not quite as forward and accessible as previous efforts by the band but does feature subtle, droning riffs, layered percussion, and philosophical lyrics all mixed with Pearl Jam’s established signature, hard rock sound.

As Pearl jam gained fame in the early 1990s, they grew increasingly uncomfortable with their success and began to rebel against the industry by refusing make music videos, issuing CDs in non-standard jackets and boycotting the Ticketmaster agency, which resulted in limiting the venues where the band was able to play and eventually led to the cancellation of their 1994 summer tour. There was also some internal strife within the band. After Pearl Jam finished the recording their third album, Vitalogy, drummer Dave Abbruzzese was fired for “political differences” when he disagreed with the Ticketmaster boycott. Abbruzzese was replaced by former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons, who joined the band in backing Neil Young on his 1995 album Mirror Ball, which in turn spawned two songs which landed on Pearl Jam’s 1995 EP, Merkin Ball.

On No Code, the group worked with producer Brendan O’Brien, with whom they had worked on 1993’s Vs. as well as Vitalogy. Work on the album began in Chicago during the summer of 1995 with other recording sessions taking place in New Orleans and their home studio in Seattle.


No Code by Pearl Jam
Released: August 27, 1996 (Epic)
Produced by: Brendan O’Brien & Pearl Jam
Recorded: Chicago Recording Company, Chicago, July 1995 – May 1996
Track Listing Group Musicians
Sometimes
Hail, Hail
Who You Are
In My Tree
Smile
Off He Goes
Habit
Red Mosquito
Lukin
Present Tense
Mankind
I’m Open
Around the Bend
Eddie Vedder – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Sitar, Harmonica
Stone Gossard – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Mike McCready – Guitars
Jeff Ament – Bass, Chapman, Vocals
Jack Irons – Drums

No Code by Pearl Jam

Written by vocalist Eddie Vedder, the opening track “Sometimes” is subtle and quiet, almost jazzy, as it feels like it is on the verge of exploding any moment but never does. In contrast, “Hail, Hail” is a strong rocker with a sound like the Pearl Jam of old in their full glory. Released as a single, this track reached the Top 10 on both the Mainstream Rock and Modern Rock charts. An odd but cool percussive intro by Irons ushers in “Who You Are” before Vedder’s vocals and a guitar riff by Stone Gossard cut through in a simple song structure, which gradually progresses and builds as it goes along. This track has a very Eastern feel in its vibe and lyrical message.

“In My Tree” works as another rhythm-driven track with more animated and soulful vocals than anything presented thus far. While most of this song feels distant and slightly under baked, near the very end it builds into a driving and droning hard rocker. Bassist Jeff Ament wrote the music for “Smile”, a Neil Young inspired driving rocker, complete with harmonica and a consistent, solid beat. “Off He Goes” is a pleasant acoustic ballad with reserved lead vocals and a fine mixture of lead guitars by Gossard and Mike McCready on top. This song unfolds in a very methodical way, making it a nice reliever of the tensions of some of the more potent, shorter tunes on the album. Speaking of tension, “Habit” is tight knit rocker where some heavy blues meets strong alternative vibes, while “Red Mosquito” was inspired by Vedder’s bought of food poisoning and features a buzzy lead guitar played by McCready using a Zippo lighter.

Pearl Jam

“Lukin” is a very short, two verse, one chorus punk rocker where Vedder strains his voice to the point of nearly being unrecognizable, followed by “Present Tense”, a slow and moody, almost dark track featuring differing guitar textures by McCready. The most unique song on the album is “Mankind”, written and sung by Gossard, with a sound approximating seventies glam rock. The artsy “I’m Open” has spoken vocal narration with wild guitar effects, synths and some piano for a New Age atmosphere, while “Around the Bend” wraps the album as an acoustic, almost country arrangement, save for the unique, tom-fused drum beat by Irons.

No Code debuted at number one in the US and topped the charts in several countries. In spite of this, much of the band’s fan base were dissatisfied with the change in musical direction and this album ultimately became the first Pearl Jam album to not reach multi-platinum status.

~

1996 music celebration image

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1996 albums.

Mechanical Resonance by Tesla

Buy Mechanical Resonance

Mechanical Resonance by TeslaMechanical Resonance is the 1986 debut album by hard rock quintet Tesla. The original album sides were distinctive in approach, with the first side containing garden-variety hair-metal anthems complete with easily chant-able hooks. The second side features more mature and original compositions which, ironically, found much greater popularity at the time and persist to the modern day.

Hailing from in Sacramento, California the group originated from an early eighties band called City Kidd, formed by guitarist Frank Hannon bassist Brian Wheat. Later vocalist Jeff Keith, guitarist Tommy Skeoch and drummer Troy Luccketta joined the group that gained popularity through the mid 1980s, leading to a record deal with the Geffen label.

During recording of this debut with producers Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero, the band members decided to change their name in honor of inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla and the title Mechanical Resonance comes from one of the scientist’s experiments. During this time, the group also began to migrate their sound in a ‘rootsier’ direction.

 


Mechanical Resonance by Tesla
Released: December 8, 1986 (Geffen)
Produced by: Steve Thompson & Michael Barbiero
Recorded: Bearsville Studios, Bearsville, New York, 1986
Side One Side Two
EZ Come EZ Go
Cumin’ Atcha Live
Gettin’ Better
2 Late 4 Love
Rock Me to the Top
We’re No Good Together
Modern Day Cowboy
Changes
Little Suzi
Love Me
Cover Queen
Before My Eyes
Group Musicians
Jeff Keith – Lead Vocals
Frank Hannon – Guitars, Keyboards, Mandolin, Vocals
Tommy Skeoch – Guitars, Vocals
Brian Wheat – Bass, Vocals
Troy Luccketta – Drums, Percussion

 

The opener “EZ Come EZ Go”features a staccato bass entry by Wheat accompanying a steady drum beat and a blistering guitar lead to open the album on a high musical note. It soon settles into a quasi-melodramatic setting with Keith’s voice and heart beat-like bass thumps before the song finally gets to the hook, which is almost an afterthought compared to the other sonic elements. “Cumin’ Atcha Live” starts with another dramatic guitar lead-in with the overall vibe being similar to classic Van Halen with an upbeat jam.

“Gettin’ Better” is the best song on the first side and it starts with nice finger-picked soft intro where Hannon’s delicate playing and Keith’s soulful vocals shine. It then breaks into a riff-driven rocker with a thematic chant for the rest of the song. “2 Late 4 Love” starts with a drum roll by Luccketta along with some guitar effects for another dramatic entry, but becomes rather ordinary beyond this.  “Rock Me to the Top” is co-written by Skeoch and the contrast in style is evident musically with its slightly darker textures. “We’re No Good Together” is the album’s first power ballad and is slow-dance ready with a slow beat and bluesy rock guitar licks. Midway through, the song takes a pleasantly surprising sonic turn and becomes an excitable, upbeat blues rock jam for the duration.

Tesla in 1986

The heart of album is the first three songs on side two, starting with their popular anthem, “Modern Day Cowboy”. Composition wise, this is more thorough than anything else on the album with acoustic and electric textures throughout, dark imagery, and a great melody and hooks. “Changes” starts with a classical piano intro before a choppy guitar riff introduces the dramatic song proper. This emotionally charged song crafts a great sonic atmosphere and a line from this track was ultimately used for the group’s greatest hits collection a decade later. The album’s only cover is “Little Suzi”, an expert acoustic/electric adaptation of the early eighties synth song by Ph.D. It starts with a really cool acoustic folk intro, while later the song has a methodical but powerful drive of multiple textures all held together with Wheat’s bass

“Love Me” is a pure riff-driven rocker with Keth’s vocals soaring over the methodical music and beats, in a style which sounds like it could have been a really big hit a few years earlier. The bridge section adds a surprise with some talk box while the later lead has nice blend of harmonized guitars. Winding down the album, “Cover Queen” features a slightly interesting arrangement, while the closer “Before My Eyes” has a doomy and dramatic intro where the group’s talents are given space to shine a bit as the song unfolds slowly and leaves plenty of room for instrumental atmosphere.

Mechanical Resonance reached the Top 40 on the US album charts and was certified platinum by the end of the decade. Tesla would reach even greater success with their next album, Great Radio Controversy, but still hold this debut in such regard that they released Mechanical Resonance Live in August 2016.

1986 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1986 albums.

 

Rainbow Rising

Buy Rising

Rainbow RisingRainbow returned with a revamped lineup and fresh approach for the group’s second studio album, Rising. The record is comprised of six solid compositions which are comparable to the material the band had done before with dynamic and tight performances. The quintet started as a project by former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore after he departed from that group.

Blackmore established Rainbow when he joined with the American rock band, Elf, in 1975. Blackmore wanted to record some material that was rejected by Deep Purple members and he enlisted Elf vocalist Ronnie James Dio who in turn suggested his band mates to back up on the recordings. Soon, this project turned into the album Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, with the album name (and ultimately the band name) inspired by the famous Rainbow Bar and Grill in Hollywood, CA. However, Blackmore was unhappy about the live performances of many in the Elf line-up and he fired everybody except Dio.

Keyboardist Tony Carey, bassist Jimmy Bain, and drummer Cozy Powell were recruited to complete this second incarnation of Rainbow. Further, Blackmore began constructing interesting chord progressions, inspired by his new found interest in playing cello and composing material with Dio supplying mythical lyrics. Rising was recorded in less than month in Munich, Germany with producer Martin Birch in early 1976.

 


Rising by Rainbow
Released: May 17, 1976 (Polydor)
Produced by: Martin Birch
Recorded: Musicland Studios, Munich, Germany, February 1976
Side One Side Two
Tarot Woman
Run with the Wolf
Starstruck
Do You Close Your Eyes
Stargazer
Light In the Black
Primary Musicians
Ronnie James Dio – Lead Vocals
Ritchie Blackmore – Guitars
Tony Carey – Keyboards
Jimmy Bain – Bass
Cozy Powell – Drums

 

From the jump, the sound of this album features sonic elements which are beyond its time. “Tarot Woman” starts with a long, wild synth intro by Carey, which sets a dramatic stage before Blackmore’s guitar riff gradually fades into the song proper. This opening track has a definitive Deep Purple quality especially during Blackmore’s soaring guitar lead. “Run with the Wolf” settles into a more conventional rock sound, still employing dramatic and satisfying overtones, but much more compact and succinct in its delivery.

“Starstruck” follows as the best overall rocker on the first side, based on classic heavy blues rock constructs and the rollicking rhythms by Bain and Powell and an excited melody by Dio, whose vocals soar and shout with great emotion. The most ordinary song on the album, “Do You Close Your Eyes” is a pretty standard hard rock song in the vein of mid seventies contemporaries like Kiss, and it does suffer slightly from compositional underdevelopment and sonic overproduction.

rainbow in 1976

The album’s second side features two extended tracks, each with a duration of over eight minutes. “Stargazer” is the epic track from Rising, starting with an interesting and inventive drum intro and working its way through several slow but powerful sections, with potent lead vocals by Dio and fantastic lead trade-offs by Blackmore and Carey. The song features mystical lyrics which tell the fable of a wizard who builds a tower from which to fly only for him to fall and die like any mortal man and includes a contribution by the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra. The rudiment-filled hard rocker “A Light in the Black” completes the album and sets a template for the future sounds of groups like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. This closer is highlighted by an incredible instrumental section with multiple keyboard and guitar leads.

Rising did well on the UK charts but not quite as well in the US. However, the influence of this album would reverberate for decades and it is considered by most to be Rainbow’s best overall album.

~

1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

 

Someday Maybe by The Clarks

Buy Someday Maybe

Someday Maybe by The ClarksAlthough this group has had a long and fruitful career which continues to this day, The Clarks only had one major label release. The 1996 record Someday Maybe is a solid and steady effort full of steady rock/pop tracks crafted in multiple sub-genres. While neglected its due amount of promotion, this album is on par with some of the highly popular albums of the same era, making it a largely unknown or forgotten gem of the mid nineties.

Based in and around the Pittsburgh area, the group derived from a college band called The Administration, featuring vocalist/guitarist Scott Blasey, guitarist Robert James Hertweck and drummer David Minarik. After several lineup changes and the addition of bassist Greg Joseph in 1986, they changed the name to “The Clarks” as a generic nod to a common name in Western Pennsylvania. Next, the group began to focus more on original material and in 1988, the Clarks began independently recording their first album, I’ll Tell You What Man…, which sold modestly well in the Pittsburgh area. Two more independent albums followed, a self-titled release in 1991 and Love Gone Sour, Suspicion, and Bad Debt in 1994.

The steadily growing popularity of The Clarks finally scored them a major label deal for two albums with MCA Records in 1996. The group immediately began working with LA-based talent, producer Tim Bomba and engineer John Siket, to record Someday Maybe.


Someday Maybe by The Clarks
Released: November 25, 1996 (MCA)
Produced by: Tim Bomba
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Stop!
Courtney
Mercury
Rain
Caroline
Never Let You Down
Fatal
The Box
One Day In My Life
No Place Called Home
Everything Has Changed
These Wishes
Last Call
Hollywood
Lost and Found
Scott Blasey – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Rob James – Guitars, Vocals
Greg Joseph – Bass, Vocals
Dave Minarik – Drums, Vocals
 
Someday Maybe by The Clarks

In a bit of irony, the opening track “Stop!” starts abruptly as a solid rocker throughout. This strong opener features a choppy rhythm guitar riff and bluesy lead licks, while the chorus lyrics borrow from Buffalo Springfield’s hit “For What It’s Worth”. “Courtney” follows as a catchy, pure nineties pop/rock track with a bright acoustic and electric arrangement. “Mercury” leans towards folk/rock or almost alt country with plenty of fine riffs and hooks to accent the overall vibe, while “Rain” is a slow acoustic ballad which moves like a waltz and features slight desperation in Blasey’s lead vocals as well as a short but excellent ending guitar lead by James.

The heart of the album begins with the radio single “Caroline”, which is presented as pure new wave pop with rapid lyric delivery and much energy throughout. “Never Let You Down” may be the hardest rocking song on the entire album, due to the rapid riffing and relentless rhythms by Joseph and Minarik. Next comes the most unique track on Someday Maybe, the excellent, soft jazz “Fatal”, with some very interesting changes and rewarding musical interludes and duet lead vocals by guest Kelsey Barber.

the clarks

Coming down the stretch, the album returns to simple and straight-forward form. “The Box” and “One Day In My Life” are strong and steady rockers, with the latter one highlighted by the rich backing harmonies in the choruses. “No Place Called Home” is a folk/Americana acoustic ballad with dramatic lyrics from the point of view of a reluctant outlaw, while “These Wishes” is built on Minarik’s interesting drum shuffle. The album concludes with “Last Call”, a late night barroom anthem with a catchy sing-along hook.

The Clarks’ big label reign was short-lived as MCA fell into financial disarray before Someday Maybe received any notable promotion and, ultimately, their contract was terminated. However, after a short break, the band continued to record independently and remained a strong regional draw for years to come.

~

1996 music celebration image

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1996 albums.

The Young Rascals

Buy The Young Rascals

The Young RascalsThe 1966 self-titled debut by The Young Rascals is made mostly of cover songs. However, this in no way implies that the album is unoriginal as the quartet’s original blend of rock and soul brands each song with a distinctive quality. In total, The Young Rascals expertly captures the sound of this fun and energetic new band with an advanced talent for escalating the emerging sound of mid sixties music.

The Young Rascals were formed in Garfield, New Jersey in early 1965. Keyboardist/vocalist Felix Cavaliere and vocalist Eddie Brigati, who were previously members of Joey Dee and the Starliters and, with the addition of guitarist Gene Cornish and drummer Dino Danelli, the band originally chose the name “The Rascals” (a name they would eventually adopt in later years). However, upon signing with Atlantic Records, discovered that it clashed with another group called “Harmonica Rascals”.

Just months after their formation, the group recorded and released their first single “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore”, co-written by lyricist Pam Sawyer and singer Laurie Burton. This fun and unique folk track with much range musically from the rich, Phil Spector-like vocal arrangements to the quasi-psychedelic guitar lead. The single and the group’s subsequent national television appearance set the stage for the recording of the group’s debut album.

 


The Young Rascals by The Young Rascals
Released: March 28, 1966 (Atlantic)
Produced by: The Young Rascals
Recorded: September 1965 – March 1966
Side One Side Two
Slow Down
Baby Let’s Wait
Just a Little
I Believe
Do You Feel It
Good Lovin’
Like a Rolling Stone
Mustang Sally
I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore
In the Midnight Hour
Group Musicians
Felix Cavaliere – Keyboards, Vocals
Eddie Brigati – Percussion, Vocals
Gene Cornish – Guitars, Bass, Vocals
Dino Danelli – Drums

 

The B-side of The Young Rascal’s lead single, “Slow Down” starts the album as an upbeat and fun jam with plenty of choppy rock elements in this Larry Williams composition from the late 1950s. “Baby Let’s Wait” is another song by Sawyer and Burton written for the group as a long drum roll by Danelli introduces this emotional, R&B-inspired ballad. On the cover “Just a Little”, the bass and acoustic guitar takes the musical forefront on a track which has a Latin overall feel which meshes well with the smooth lead vocals and rich harmonies.

“I Believe” features the most soulful feel yet, highlighted by the very dramatic performance vocally by Brigati and the Hammond organ by Cavaliere. The first and only track written by members of the band, “Do You Feel It” is a dance-oriented, call and response sixties rocker which acts as a good warm up for the album’s climatic centerpiece, “Good Lovin'”. Written by Arthur Resnick and Rudy Clark, this crisp, short and direct rock jam with just enough input by all group members to balance it at just the right level sonically. Highlighting it all is Cavaliere’s distinct, melodic organ solo which soars to a rare level that establishes the song as an all time classic.

The Young Rascals

Much of the rest of side two is comprised of covers of well-known contemporary songs. There is an apt cover of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”, which sticks pretty close to the original from Highway 61 Revisited and works fine save for the over-the-top harmonized chorus sections and other minor parts where the group tries to be fancy. Next, The Young Rascals play an almost ridiculously slow version of “Mustang Sally”, with a sloshy rock n’ soul groove and vocals which are legitimately soulful throughout. The closer “In the Midnight Hour” is an almost direct copy of Wilson Pickett’s original, which is a pretty impressive feat in itself.

The Young Rascals reached the Top 20 on the album charts and sold well in the U.S. The group had continued success in subsequent years as Brigati and Cavaliere began composing original songs which would establish them as one of the top acts of the late 1960s.

~

1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1966 albums.

 

Nilsson Schmilsson by Harry Nilsson

Buy Nilsson Schmilsson

Nilsson Schmilsson by Harry NilssonThe seventh studio album by Harry Nilsson, the music on 1971’s Nilsson Schmilsson unfolds almost like a television variety show with its incredible diversity in musical style. The most commercially successful work of Nilsson’s career, the album was his first to fully delve into the pop/rock realm as it features a vast array of mature pop ranging from tin pan alley to contemporary rock.

With a musical career that dated back to the late fifties, Nilsson began to have some real success as a songwriter in 1963 when he wrote a songs for artists like Little Richard and producers like Phil Spector. His debut album, Spotlight on Nilsson was released in 1966 with album releases coming in rapid succession over the next several years but with very modest commercial success. However, Nilsson’s multi-octave vocals caught the ear of Beatles’ publicist Derek Taylor who introduced his music to the band. By 1968, both John Lennon and Paul McCartney were citing Nilsson as one of their favorite American artists. Nilsson’s first commercial breakthrough came when his rendition of Fred Neil’s song “Everybody’s Talkin'” was featured in the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy, becoming a Top 10 hit and leading to a subsequent Grammy Award.

Nilsson Schmilsson was produced by Richard Perry, who enlisted top-notch players to back Nilsson. This includes bassist Klaus Voormann, formally of Manfred Mann’s band, and drummer Jim Gordon who had recently been involved with Derek and the Dominos. The album was recorded at Trident Studios in London.

 


Nilsson Schmilsson by Harry Nilsson
Released: November 13, 1971 (RCA/Victor)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: Trident Studios, London, June 1971
Side One Side Two
Gotta Get Up
Driving Along
Early in the Morning
The Moonbeam Song
Down
Without You
Coconut
Let the Good Times Roll
Jump Into the Fire
I’ll Never Leave You
Primary Musicians
Harry Nilsson – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards
John Uribe – Guitars
Klaus Voormann – Bass, Guitar
Jim Gordon – Drums, Percussion

 

The ten-song album features three covers and seven Nilsson originals including its first two tracks. “Gotta Get Up” is a theatrical pop/rocker driven by Nilsson’s bouncy piano, complete with a rich arrangement including slight horns and other elements packed into this song of less than two and a half minutes. The acoustic “Driving Along” follows and works well as an early seventies soft rocker with rich vocals, slight horns and a Mellotron by Perry. The album’s first cover is “Early in the Morning”, originally a late 1940s Cuban-influenced track by Louis Jordan. On this version, Nilsson nearly performs solo with a choppy reverb laden organ and extraordinarily soulful lead vocals.

“The Moonbeam Song” features slowly strummed acoustic topped by soft vocals soon accompanied by a rich backing chorus. The poetic verse structure of this song is atypical, with elongated lines at times to extenuate the overall feel. On the moderate piano rocker “Down”, Nilsson’s strained vocals and Jim Keltner‘s potent drum beats drive home the central theme strongly to finish the first side. The pop-oriented second side begins with the chart-topping cover of “Without You”, originally composed and released by Badfinger for their No Dice LP. Here, Nilsson took an incredibly dramatic ballad and made it even more emotional and melancholy as he uses his voice to max potential and performs both parts of the original duet by Pete Ham and Tom Evans. Further, the orchestration of Paul Buckmaster made this an almost operatic piece.

Harry Nilsson

Following the emotional drama of “Without You”, comes the light and nearly frivolous “Coconut”. Here, a finger-picked acoustic riff starts the rotating and persistent percussion, which does not change through the entire duration of this quirky Caribbean hit. The cover of Shirley and Lee’s “Let the Good Times Roll” has a genuine Southern feel throughout with bouncy piano, a fine harmonica lead and slight slide guitar by John Uribe interjected between vocal lines. In contrast, the rocker “Jump Into the Fire” is built on a de-tuned bass groove by Herbie Flowers and well-treated vocals which sound unlike anything else on the album. The slow and simple piano ballad, “I’ll Never Leave You”, wraps things up with many instances of pleasant sonic additives throughout.

Nilsson Schmilsson was nominated for several Grammy awards with the song “Without You” winning for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. In an attempt to build on this success, Nilsson followed with a couple of spin-offs, Son of Schmilsson in 1972 and A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night in 1973, but neither of these were received nearly as well critically or commercially.

~

1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1971 albums

 

American II: Unchained by Johnny Cash

Buy American II: Unchained

American II by Johnny CashBuilding on the momentum of his 1994 comeback album, American Recordings, country/rock legend Johnny Cash decided to do a sequel in what would become a very successful late career series. However, where the first album was sparse, dark folk with just Cash and his acoustic guitar, American II: Unchained features much richer and brighter arrangements due in large part to the musical help of Tom Petty and (three of) The Heartbreakers.

While not a huge commercial hit, American Recordings had much critical acclaim and won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album. A revitalized Cash said that the reception and response was one of the highlights of his career, which at that point dated back forty years. Later in 1994, Cash recorded a solo cover of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” and joined up with Brooks & Dunn for his own “Folsom Prison Blues” to contribute to the AIDS benefit album Red Hot + Country. Cash also revitatlized his acting career by appearing with his wife June Carter on a number of episodes of the television series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

Along with producer and label owner Rick Rubin, Cash decided to enlist contemporary rock musicians for this follow-up album. Fresh off the success of his solo record Wildflowers, Petty was enlisted along with fellow Heartbreakers, guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboardist Benmont Tench and bassist Howie Epstein, to be the core of the backing band. Other cameos on this album included Lindsay Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood from Fleetwood Mac and bassist Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers. American II: Unchained is made mostly of cover songs with a few Cash originals sprinkled throughout the album.


American II: Unchained by Johnny Cash
Released: November 5, 1996 (American)
Produced by: Rick Rubin
Recorded: Sound City & Ocean Way Studios, Los Angeles and The Cowboy Arms And Recording Spa, Nashville, TN, 1995-1996
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Rowboat
Sea of Heartbreak
Rusty Cage
The One Rose (That’s Left in My Heart)
Country Boy
Memories Are Made of This
Spiritual
The Kneeling Drunkard’s Plea
Southern Accents
Mean Eyed Cat
Meet Me in Heaven
I Never Picked Cotton
Unchained
I’ve Been Everywhere
Johnny Cash – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Tom Petty – Guitars, bass, Vocals
Mike Campbell – Guitars, Mandolin, Dobro
Benmont Tench – Piano, Keyboards
Marty Stuart – Guitars, Bass
Steve Ferroneh – Drums, PercussionAmerican II by Johnny Cash

With a fantastic array of acoustic and electric guitars above a moderate classic country beat, the album begins with a cover of Beck’s “Rowboat”. Here, the guitars are delivered in various country and rock styles with Cash’s simple and somber vocals making this an overall sonic treat. “Sea of Heartbreak” is a brighter and more upbeat cover with fine chorus harmonies by Petty. The song was originally a Country hit for Don Gibson and features acoustic guitar by Buckingham and percussion by Fleetwood. Cash’s cover of “Rusty Cage” is the most striking and unique song on American II: Unchained. Originally written and recorded on Soundgarden’s Badmotofinger, Cash’s vocals follow the droning acoustic riff through the first two verses before breaking into an unabashed rock arrangement for the latter half of the song. This hip and timely track ultimately won a Grammy Award for Best Country Album.

Cash returns to form on the pure, classic country of “The One Rose (That’s Left in My Heart)”, which features a fine slide guitar lead by Campbell throughout. “Country Boy” and “Mean Eyed Cat” are two remakes of Sun Studio recordings from the late 1950s and each provide a nice slice of sonic nostalgia to add to the album’s diversity. “Memories Are Made of This” is presented as a bright folk song with upbeat, brushed drums, later joined by fine piano and distant whistle organ by Tench in a very good recording. Next come a couple of spiritual songs, the first of which is simply called “Spiritual”, a somber track which is a little drawn out and melodramatic. Written by several in-laws, The Carters, “The Kneeling Drunkard’s Plea” is a more upbeat cry for redemption as told by a third party observer.

Johnny Cash 1996

The later third of the album features more diverse songs. The inversion “Southern Accents” is presented as a soft acoustic ballad, where the Heartbreakers back Cash on their own song from their album of the same name a decade earlier. “Meet Me in Heaven” is a Cash original and presented brilliantly with a bright acoustic by Petty mixed along with Campbell’s softly picked electric and Tench’s piercing keys. Originally a hit by Roy Clark, “I Never Picked Cotton” is a fun Country classic which changes keys frequently during the two and a half minute duration and features some backing vocals by Petty. The title track “Unchained” is a soft acoustic ballad cover by Jude Johnstone and features some cool Chamberlin strings by Petty and Tench. Wrapping it all up is the fun jaunt “I’ve Been Everywhere”, which completes the album with upbeat rockabilly music and impressive, breathless rap by Cash as he lists the cascade of locations in each of the four main verses.

Although it had much crossover appeal, American II: Unchained was a much bigger commercial success on the Country charts than the Pop Charts. This recipe for success continued with more albums in the “American” series by Cash and Ruben, extending into the early part of the next century.

~

1996 music celebration image

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1996 albums.

Trial By Fire by Journey

Buy Trial by Fire

Trial by Fire by JourneyFor Journey‘s most avid fans, the 1996 album Trial By Fire may be best described as one last guilty dip into the group’s heyday of the previous decade. With that in mind, it’s really a shame that the music here nods back to the group’s post-fame eighties rather than the far superior pre-fame late seventies sound. In any case, this was the first time in a dozen years that the five-piece lineup which brought Journey its greatest success got together to make a record.

Following the phenomenal success of 1981’s Escape and Frontiers along with the subsequent major tours, Journey took some extended time off. Lead vocalist Steve Perry released his debut solo album while guitarist Neal Schon participated in the short-lived “super group” HSAS, fronted by Sammy Hagar. Turmoil ensued during the recording of their next album, Raised On Radio in 1986, as bassist Ross Valory and drummer Steve Smith were dismissed from the band due to “musical and professional differences”. Although that album was a commercial success, Perry went on an indefinite hiatus, leaving the group in limbo for several years.

In the early 1990s, keyboardist Jonathan Cain joined Schon, Valory and Smith for a series of tribute concerts. This indirectly led to the early 80s lineup of Perry, Schon, Cain, Valory and Smith reuniting in 1995 and recording this new album with producer Kevin Shirley in 1996, making it the first new Journey album in 10 years.


Trial by Fire by Journey
Released: October 22, 1996 (Columbia)
Produced by: Kevin Shirley
Recorded: Ocean Way Recording Studios, Hollywood, CA, The Site and Wildhorse Studios, Marin County, CA, Summer 1996
Track Listing Group Musicians
Message of Love
One More
When You Love a Woman
If He Should Break Your Heart
Forever In Blue
Castles Burning
Don’t Be Down on Me Baby
Still She Cries
Colors of the Spirit
When I Think of You
Easy to Fall
Can’t Tame the Lion
It’s Just the Rain
Trial by Fire
Baby I’m a Leavin’ You
Steve Perry – Lead Vocals
Neal Schon – Guitars, Vocals
Jonathan Cain – Keyboards, Guitars, Vocals
Ross Valory – Bass, Vocals
Steve Smith – Drums, Percussion

Trial by Fire by Journey

The group’s core members of Perry, Schon and Cain wrote the bulk of the songs on Trial by Fire. One of the few exceptions is the opening “Message Of Love”, which was co-written by lyricist John Bettis. The song swells in with some backwards-masked voices before strong beat-driven, perfectly fine, albeit ultra-ordinary pop song. This is an interesting slight nod back to the 1983 hit “Separate Ways” just prior to Schon’s lead guitar. “One More” starts with a movie-like string arrangement by David Campbell before breaking into Valory’s bass-driven rhythm to accompany Perry’s interesting and slightly dark vocal melody. “When You Love A Woman” is a classic Journey ballad with rocking piano, strategic guitar overtones and soulful/romantic vocals. The song reached the top of the Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary chart as well as becoming a Top 10 hit on the American pop charts, the group’s last such hit to date.

“If He Should Break Your Heart” continues the parade of slick, love-oriented songs and, while the theme is unoriginal, this one takes on a pleasant mellow rock vibe musically. On “Forever In Blue”, the verse music is driven by a spunkier, choppy guitar riff with some fine snare clicks by Smith, For his part, Perry does get a bit soulfully strained as the song goes on, which works to add a bit of authenticity to the sound. Schon provides a wah-wah fused blues guitar between each verse line of “Castles Burning”, along with a later simple but exciting, squeaky rotating riff over the bridge to bring the song to a higher sonic level. This sparks the best sequence on the album with “Don’t Be Down On Me Baby” laid out like a classic Soul ballad with a simple, rotating piano phrase accompanied by Perry’s soaring lead vocals and “Still She Cries” featuring nicely picked guitar motifs in intro sets before the mood settles with steady rhythms throughout this ballad.

Journey in 1996

Unfortunately, there are many superfluous songs beyond this point. “Colors of the Spirit” does employ world-music inspired sounds through its long, jungle-like intro before unfortunately reverting back to standard fonts for the song proper. “When I Think of You” is, perhaps, the nadir of album as an uninspired ballad, while “Easy to Fall” only works later on with some fine, bluesy/jazz guitar work by Schon. “Can’t Tame the Lion” is a pure rock song that remain upbeat and rocking throughout before the mood is once again brought down with the ballad “It’s Just the Rain”. The title track, “Trial By Fire”, provides welcome relieve by this point of the Goliath-length album as Smith provides some odd beats accompanying Valory’s cool bass and Schon’s jazzy guitar for an overall fine vibe, while the “hidden” “Baby I’m a Leavin’ You” features a heavy Caribbean-influence with musical flourishes and a nice, light way to complete the album.

Trial By Fire reached #3 on the album charts and Journey appeared to be back in top commercial form as they prepared for a subsequent tour> However, Perry injured himself during a hiking, rendering him unable to perform for over a year. By 1998, both Perry and Smith were out of the group and Journey continued as a patchwork band into the new century.

~

1996 music celebration image

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1996 albums.